Doctors in the Courtroom
I’ve just gotten through two of the toughest weeks in my career. I was in four cities in four days doing depositions and then worked through the weekend and Monday getting pleadings out to meet a deadline. Oh, and did I mention my mother-in-law is in hospice? I’m not whining, just giving an excuse — a pretty good one, I think — for why I didn’t get around to writing this sooner.
Anyway, somewhere in the middle of all that turmoil, I came across an interesting medical malpractice case out of Billings, Montana. Gerard “Gerry” Heidt, 42, died Oct. 5, 2005 from undiagnosed heart valve leakage. A jury returned a verdict for $1.7 million, almost all of it calculated as lost wages. The absence of a jury award for pain-and-suffering damages is so commonplace nowadays as to be hardly worth mentioning. In many ways, the Heidt case was just ordinary.
But, it turns out that this recent verdict was the second trial of this case. The first trial was a doozy and wound up in the Montana Supreme Court.
Everything in the first trial was going smoothly, if boringly, until the last day when Heidt’s lawyer began his closing argument to the jury. Courts are pretty lenient about what they allow a lawyer to do in closing argument and it is de rigueur among many trial lawyers to “channel” the decedent in wrongful-death cases. In other words, the attorney tries to pretend to be the decedent and describes the horrible things that happened to him while alive. John Edwards, erstwhile candidate for president, was famous for it. Heck, I’d try it myself, if I thought I could do it with a straight face.Continued on the next page